By Craig Patterson
Montreal’s Centre Rockland is in a state of transition, and landlord Cominar REIT has announced that it will invest millions into an overhauled food and beverage component that will reflect some key trends seen among the country’s leading shopping centres. The project is particularly unique in both what’s being built, as well as what will be done in the interim to replace the mall’s food vendors while a new space is built-out.
Cominar is investing about $10 million into its former food court, which will result in something considerably different for the centre when it’s unveiled this fall. Manon Larose, Vice President of Retail Leasing at Cominar, explained that the replacement of the mall’s food court won’t be necessarily a food hall per se, but will be something of a culinary experience that will be a mix of permanent and temporary vendors, and there will even be an area where master chefs can demonstrate their wares.
It’s all part of an effort to attract more shoppers to the centre, and Montreal residents are known to be foodies. The completed redesigned space will be both modern and warm, featuring an interior garden-styled environment, according to Cominar.
A total of 15 permanent restaurants under a new atrium will be augmented by rotating pop-up concepts in the new food and beverage space, which will replace the current food court on the mall’s third level. At the centre of it all will be an Italian-themed bar and restaurant and nearby, a chef’s kitchen will host guest chefs for demos, food tastings, cooking classes as well as mixology workshops.
Two units in the new space will be reserved for food truck operators that will change seasonally — Ms. Larose explained how Montreal loves its food trucks, and that this initiative is expected to be a hit with locals that frequent the popular shopping centre.
Other components to the new food and beverage centre will be a three-season outdoor terrace, a children’s garden that will include a game area, and a personalized food waste sorting service to maximize composting and recycling. Floor-to-ceiling windows on the east side will supply ample natural light.
“We are delighted to offer Rockland’s customers a vibrant and authentic food court that will host culinary demonstrations where professional chefs will present unique gastronomic events. It will feature a central bar offering a fresh visual and tasting experience, as well as a diverse selection of food trucks every three months. Its new Children’s Garden will cater to families by offering a range of services for their well-being”, said Ms. Larose.
“This new space, which focuses on international and healthy cuisine, will feature a large atrium and an outdoor terrace where customers can enjoy abundant natural lighting and a variety of entertaining activities. The only remnant of the traditional food court is the variety of food options; other than that, everything else has been reinvented”, added Jean Laramée, Executive Vice-President, Development at Cominar.
As the current food court space has been shuttered for the renovation, Cominar came up with a unique idea to provide customers with food and beverage, with a popular Montreal twist. Four food trucks will be parked outside of the centre (including La Gaspésie, Gras Dur, Mignon and Jerry’s) to serve its shoppers as of today (February 23) and customers will have access to these outdoor food trucks through a heated indoor corridor and will be able to enjoy their meal in a seated indoor dining area. It’s a first of its kind in Quebec, according to Cominar, and was inspired by the success of Mandy’s food truck, which has been set up in Rockland’s center court since October of 2017.
Centre Rockland has several other dining establishments on-site, and these will not be affected and will remain open during the food court overhaul. Locations for Starbucks, Eggspectation, Café Dépôt and Okane Sushi are contained within the mall, and in May of this year one of Montreal’s best known pizza restaurants, NO.900, will open in the centre.
Enhanced food and beverage offerings in malls is a significant trend, as identified in Retail Council of Canada’s latest Shopping Centre Study. Some of the country’s top malls have renovated and expanded their food and beverage offerings with considerable success — consumers now, more than ever, are seeking out experiences, and strong culinary experiences are bringing shoppers into centres, keeping them there, and having them return.
Canada’s top mall landlords continue to invest in their malls, and over the past several years have invested billions of dollars into their centres. The investments are unprecedented, as malls compete for shoppers that are also changing their spending patterns. Technology spending is on the rise (the new iPhone X is the most expensive yet), and many are seeking out experiences that they otherwise can’t get online — and that’s important to note, considering the increased popularity of e-commerce in Canada. The cost of living in Canadian cities is going up as well — higher housing costs, stagnating incomes and high taxes are all playing a role in putting a dent in Canadians’ wallets and as a result, retailers and malls are fighting vigorously for Canada’s limited shopping dollars, particularly in Quebec.
Shopping Centre landlords in the Montreal area are investing in their centres to address competition, which will become even fiercer with the arrival of Carbonleo’s multi-billion dollar mixed-use Royalmount project, which will include about 2.5 million square feet of space only about three kilometres west of Centre Rockland. Cadillac Fairview’s CF Galleries d’Anjou recently saw renovations as well as the addition of La Maison Simons as well as Montreal’s first Saks OFF 5TH, and to the north, CF Carrefour Laval continues to add new tenants as it maintains its position as a super-regional centre. Downtown Montreal is expected to continue to hold its own with the renovation of its primary shopping street, Sainte-Catherine Street West, which is seeing new retailers as well as an expanded Holt Renfrew Ogilvy and within a few years, a renovated La Maison Simons flagship.
Back at Centre Rockland, Ms. Larose noted that the centre will be seeing some new retailers in 2018 and 2019, and that some of these will be revealed at a later date due to confidentiality. One existing tenant, Linen Chest, will see a revamp as part of an updated store concept.
Centre Rockland is positioned as a mid-to-upscale centre serving nearby affluent communities such as Outremont. The centre has almost 160 boutiques and includes some well-known, upscale retailers such as Marie Saint Pierre, Judith & Charles, Michael Kors, Stuart Weitzman, Massimo Dutti, and Karen Millen (the only Millen boutique in Canada). Centre Rockland's interior uses high-quality materials, according to Cominar, to reflect its location as well as its upscale positioning. The centre opened in 1959 and was originally anchored by retailers including Morgan’s and Holt Renfrew — Morgan’s is now Hudson’s Bay, and the Holt Renfrew store, along with several others in the region, shuttered in the 1990’s.